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For more information, please contact Polly Ryan, Court Interpreter Program Coordinator
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Interpreters who complete the requirements detailed in the policy below are eligible to work for state courts and may be listed on the Statewide Roster of Court Interpreters.
513(c) Court Interpreter Roster Qualifications Policy (effective December 1, 2020)
Sign Language Interpreters
must additionally be certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) or National Association for the Deaf (NAD) before being included on the statewide roster with one or more of the following certifications: Certificate of Interpretation (CI) and Certificate of Transliteration (CT), Comprehensive Skills Certificate (CSC), National Association of the Deaf Advanced (NAD V), Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) or Certified Deaf Interpreter - provisional (CDI-provisional).
The first step toward joining the Minnesota Court Interpreter Program is to achieve a passing score of 80% on part one of the multiple choice English proficiency test provided by the National Center for State Courts.
Preparation for the National Center for State Courts: Written Exam
Review and study these resources:
Exams are given in-person at the Minnesota Judicial Center.
2023 Test Dates
- Tuesday, February 28
- Wednesday, March 22
- Monday, August 7
- Wednesday, September 13
Interpreters who pass the English proficiency test must attend a multi-day orientation program to join the Minnesota Court Interpreter Roster. This orientation program provides court interpreters with an introduction to the Minnesota Judicial Branch, reviews ethics and the Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters
, describes the role of court interpreters, identifies common legal terms, and teaches interpreter skill building techniques.
Part two of the written test provided by the National Center for State Courts
is during the Orientation Program.
2023 Orientation Date(s):
April 27, 28 & 29, 2023 - Registration Form
October 26, 27 & 28, 2023 - Registration form will be available one month in advance.
Once candidates have passed both parts of the National Center for State Courts Written Exam and attended the new interpreter orientation, they may submit their application and a notarized affidavit for inclusion on the roster.
A new affidavit is required every two years to remain on the roster per policy 513(c) effective December 1, 2020.
Advanced and experienced interpreters who want to specialize in court work are encouraged to take the Certification Exam to become a Minnesota Certified Court Interpreter. Minnesota's district courts are required to appoint certified interpreters first.
To be certified, an interpreter must complete all of the following prerequisites:
- Be listed on the Minnesota Court Interpreter Roster;
- Receive a passing score on the court interpreter certification exam developed by the National Center for State Courts that is administered or approved by the State Court Administrator’s Office;
- Be at least 18 years old; and
- Be of good character and fitness as evidenced by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) report - a Criminal Background Check.
Certification is available in the following languages: Arabic (Egyptian and Levantine), Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, Cantonese, Filipino (formerly Tagalog), French, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
The State Court Administrator recognizes the Legal Specialist Certificate in sign language as the highest level of certification currently available from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID)
. Certificate holders are considered more qualified to interpret in legal settings than sign language interpreters holding generalist certificates only. Sign language interpreters who obtain the certificate and complete all requirements for inclusion on the statewide roster can apply for certification in the Minnesota state court system.
Spoken language interpreters who want to be a Certified Court Interpreter must pass each part of the National Center for State Courts: Oral Certification Exam with 70% accuracy. Candidates for the certification exam should already be fluent in their non-English language at levels equivalent to that of highly educated native speakers.
The oral exam is divided into three sections: sight, consecutive, and simultaneous. All three sections are given at one scheduled exam appointment. Minnesota offers exams each November in Arabic (Modern Standard for sight and simultaneous portions & Egyptian Colloquial or Levantine Colloquial for the consecutive portion), Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, Cantonese, French, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
2023 Oral Certification Dates
The National Center for State Courts, Somali oral certification exam is available again and will be administered the week of March 13, 2023. Registration for the Somali only exam is open until February 17, 2023.
Oral certification exams are held at the Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul, MN. Exams for all spoken languages will be administered the week of November 15th, 2023. Fall registration will be available and posted on this webpage in September 2023.
Fees: $300 for Spanish and $400 for all other languages. There are currently no scholarships available to subsidize this fee.
To be eligible for certification in Minnesota, you must pass all three sections of the exam (simultaneous, consecutive, and sight translation) with a score of at least 70 percent in each section.
To be eligible for certification in Minnesota, you must take all three sections on the same day or within the same testing period. Candidates may retain passing score(s) achieved on each section for up to 12 months and retest only the sections they did not previously pass. Candidates must wait 10 months before retesting.
Interpreters are limited to the number of times they may take the same version of the test. This rule ensures that an interpreter cannot memorize exam contents through multiple attempts making the results no longer valid as a measure of interpreting skills. The number of attempts permitted varies depending on language.
Certification in other states does not automatically permit certification in Minnesota and certification in Minnesota does not automatically mean you are certified in other states. To find out if you qualify for certification in another state, contact that state's court interpreter program manager. See the list of state court interpreter program contacts.
After a candidate has passed the National Center for State Courts Oral Exam, a criminal background check is required to screen for good character and fitness. A court interpreter should be one whose record of conduct justifies the trust of the courts, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, parties, and others with respect to the official duties they will have in court. To help determine good character and fitness a Criminal Background Check Authorization Form
must be completed, signed before a notary public, and mailed along with a check or money order for $15.00, to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
An interpreter will not qualify for certification if the BCA check includes any of the following:
- Conviction of a crime which resulted in a sentence or a suspended sentence;
- Misconduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
- Revocation or suspension of certification as an interpreter, or for any other position or license for which a character check was performed in this state or in other jurisdictions; and
- Acts that indicate abuse of or disrespect for the judicial process.
Court interpretation means the unrehearsed transmitting of a spoken or signed message from one language to another in a courtroom setting. Qualified oral interpreters generally use consecutive and simultaneous interpretation in court. Sign language interpreters render the meaning of a sign into speech and vice versa. Interpretation is different from "translation," which relates to the conversion of a written text from one language into written text in another language.
Court interpreters interpret for people in court who cannot communicate effectively in English or are deaf or hard of hearing. These people include defendants and witnesses in criminal court, as well as litigants and witnesses in family and civil courts. Interpreters listed on the Roster of Court Interpreters on the Minnesota Judicial Branch's public website may also be contacted by other State agencies or private law firms and offered work in settings such as attorney-client meetings, depositions, witness preparation sessions, and interviews with court personnel.
Interpreting requires the ability to perform several mental processes while at the same time vocalizing the message. The process includes:
- Summarizing the message from the words and word order
- Retaining ideas
- Understanding a message's intent
- Recreating the exact message in the other language
- Doing these things while speaking and listening for the next phrase to process
First, know your languages. Full bilingual proficiency, ample vocabulary, and knowledge of standard grammar are requirements. One effective self-training technique is to observe court proceedings and mentally interpret them to yourself. Write down the terms that stump you, and then look for solutions in dictionaries.
It is also important to possess educated, native-like mastery of both English and a second language; a wide general knowledge, characteristic of someone who has a minimum of two years of a general college-level education; and the ability to perform the three major types of court interpreting (consecutive, simultaneous, and sight interpreting).
Other skills considered essential include:
- A good working knowledge of court procedures, court rules, and Minnesota statutes, as well as an understanding of how they apply at the various court levels.
- Excellent customer service skills for internal and external customers.
- Excellent oral and written communication skills.
- The ability to work independently with minimal supervision.
- An understanding of what it means to be an independent contractor or self-employed.
- The ability to work effectively with judges, administrators, and court staff.
- An understanding and ability to interpret court policies and procedures, as well as an understanding of how the Code of Ethics relates to particular assignments.
- The desire to continue learning.
According to the Minnesota Supreme Court's rules on interpreting, individuals, whether qualified as a court interpreter in another state or not, who wish to interpret in the state court system and be included on the statewide roster of interpreters must first complete the following:
Pass the English proficiency portion of the National Center for State Courts Court Interpreter Written Exam. This is a written test made up of 75 multiple-choice questions in English. The test measures candidates' comprehension of written English vocabulary and idioms. Individuals who register for the test will receive a copy of the Court Interpreter Written Examination: Overview for study. There is no charge to take this test.
After passing the English proficiency test, attend the required orientation program. Orientation programs are usually held on weekends and are conducted in English. The program provides an introduction to the Minnesota Judicial System, introduction to common legal terms, practicing interpreting techniques, and analyzing the role of interpreters in the court system. The program cost is $100.
After completing the orientation program, pass the second section of the National Center for State Courts Court Interpreter Written Exam. This is a written test made up of 60 multiple-choice questions in English. The test measures candidates' knowledge of court-related terms and knowledge, and understanding of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters. Candidates are allowed 1 hour to complete the test. Tests are typically given at the beginning of day 2 of the orientation program.
File an affidavit with the State Court Administrator's Office that explains that you agree to be bound by the Code of Professional Responsibility. The affidavit form is given to interpreters after they pass both sections of the written exam and is to be completed, notarized, and returned to the Court Interpreter Program. Upon receipt of their affidavit, interpreters will receive a letter confirming they are eligible to work in the state court system and their name will been placed on the statewide roster of court interpreters.
Sign language interpreters: The Minnesota state court system does have a certification testing program for sign language interpreters. The Minnesota Supreme Court has mandated in the General Rules of Practice, Rule 8, that sign language interpreters must meet the minimum requirements to interpret in the courts including passing both parts of the NCSC written test, attend orientation, and submit the required application and affidavit. In addition, they must maintain certification by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or the National Association for the Deaf. (See below for certification requirements.)
There are three types of interpreting:
- Consecutive: Providing the interpreted words after the speaker has stopped speaking. The length of the interpretation may near the limits of the interpreter's capacity for recalling what is said. Interpreters would typically take notes to help them interpret.
- Simultaneous: Providing the interpreted words continuously at the same time someone is speaking.
- Sight: Sometimes referred to as "sight translation," this is a hybrid type of interpreting during which the interpreter reads a document written in one language while converting it orally into another language. In this type of interpreting, a written text is interpreted without advance notice. Court interpreters often sight-translate legal documents such as plea agreements.
The interpreter's duty is to:
- Ensure that the proceedings in English reflect precisely what was said by a non-English-speaking person, and
- Place the non-English-speaking person on an equal footing with those who are proficient in English.
Interpreters interpret from one language to another everything that is said, preserving the tone and level of the original language, adding and deleting nothing. A bilingual individual is not necessarily qualified to interpret in court. Court interpreting requires additional knowledge and skills.
Interpreters participate in virtually every type of case in the state court system. Matters range from personal injury cases, small claims, landlord/tenant disputes, traffic, domestic violence, child support, sexual assault, drug offenses, arson, and DUI, to name a few.
Most interpreters work as independent contract interpreters or through an interpreter provider agency. To find agencies to work with, search for the term "translation". Interpreters are contacted based on their qualifications by scheduling specialists and offered assignments.
Experienced spoken language court interpreters who decide to make a career out of interpreting may take a legal interpreting proficiency oral exam for certification (visit Spoken Language Certification tab).
The National Center for State Courts Oral Certification Examination for Court Interpreters tests three modes of interpreting:
Sign language interpreters:
- The simultaneous portion is a recording which contains a recording a passage that is based on an attorney’s opening or closing statement in court. The passage is about 900 words in length and is recorded at a speed of about 120 words per minute.
- For the sight translation portion, an interpreter must read an English document aloud while being recorded. An interpreter must also read a non-English document aloud while being recorded. The documents are about 225 words long. Interpreters are allowed six minutes to complete this portion of the exam.
- The consecutive portion requires the interpreter to interpret English language questions into the non-English language and vice versa.
The State Court Administrator has recognized the Legal Specialist Certificate in sign language as the highest level of certification currently available from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. The Registry awards the certificate to interpreters who have demonstrated entry-level legal interpreting competence by passing written and performance exams. Certificate holders should be considered more qualified to interpret in legal settings than sign language interpreters holding generalist certificates only. Sign language interpreters who obtain the certificate and complete all requirements for inclusion on the statewide roster can apply for certification in the Minnesota state court system.
Minnesota's courts are in great need for competent and certified American Sign Language interpreters. Interpreters are required to complete all requirements for inclusion on the statewide roster, as well as maintain certification by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or the National Association for the Deaf with:
- Certificate of Interpretation: the ability to interpret between American Sign Language and spoken English in both sign-to-voice and voice-to-sign, and
- Or NAD Level V (Master),
- Or NIC,
- Or CDI or CDI-P.
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the National Association for the Deaf base their certifications on rigorous evaluation of candidates' interpretation skills and knowledge of the Code of Ethics by a group of professional peers. The system establishes minimum levels of achievement, representing a starting point for interpreters that varies according to certification area and competence level. Interpreters certified by these organizations are expected to improve their skills by attending workshops and training seminars, and through frequent use of sign language.
In 1995, Minnesota and four other states initiated the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts, now known as the Council of Language Access Coordinators (CLAC). The CLAC is an official part of the National Center for State Courts (NSCS) and provides test materials and educational programs, sets standards for interpreter test development, administration and education and serves as a forum for information-sharing among states and interested organizations.
Interpreters who pass an NCSC oral proficiency exam for certification in any other state are eligible to apply for certification in Minnesota without having to retake the NCSC exam. Applicants must complete all requirements for inclusion on the statewide roster before applying for certification in the Minnesota state court system.
Language and interpreting experts, coordinated by the National Center for State Courts, develop the language proficiency exams, which includes publishing test documentation enhancing the credibility and legitimacy of the testing program. The National Center for State Courts has prepared and maintains standardized manuals for test construction, test administration (including a candidate information booklet), and test rater training.
Some district courts choose to work with interpreter provider agencies because they have a high demand for interpreters of various languages each day. Interpreters can choose to work as an independent contractor or for an agency or can do both.